I love getting to head into the labyrinth of language on Amaze-ing Words Wednesday! Today’s topic is compound words.
Recently I was reading a fabulous short story by a fellow writer and noticed that she had typed “cellphone.” Thinking that I’d always seen it as “cell phone,” I looked it up. Guess what? The American Copy Editors Society gave in to common usage back in 2011 and began to simply use “cellphone” in publications. So “cellphone” is now the accepted word!
How is a compound word formed? A compound words is comprised of two distinct words to form a new word. Sometimes, the compound is intentionally created to name something with characteristics of both words–such as dragonfly or steamboat. Other times, two words are uttered together so often that they become a single word, such as babysitting and lighthearted.
Why use compound words? Compound words are handy in saving time, for one thing. Instead of saying, “place of work” or “loaf of meat” or “mate from class,” we say “workplace,” “meatloaf,” and “classmate.” Those roll off the tongue faster and easier.
Second, we immediately catch two characteristics of an item in one word. For instance, even if you had never heard these words before, you would immediately understand their meaning: “zookeeper,” “farmhouse,” “shipwreck,” “heartsick.” Two words come together to easily define a new concept–one that is distinct from its separate parts but understandable because of those parts.
Plus, some compound words communicate ideas in a more colorful way. Have you noticed that quite a few cuss words are compound words? There are less profane examples such as “loudmouth” and “daredevil” and “killjoy” and “cutthroat.”
How do you know if a word is a compound word? The crazy thing is that we’re always inventing new compound words. So whereas, we used to have “web site,” it’s now “website.” What typically happens with word formation is that new words or forms of a word get tried out in slang. Publications do not follow slang trends because some stick and some go away. When a word or word form gets so often in slang usage that it becomes common usage, the Word Gods on High (also known as the Oxford English Dictionary folks) finally recognize the word and slap it into the dictionary.
Or a word might be adopted before then by other associations (such as the American Copy Editors mentioned above) and suddenly become accepted for publication.
Until then, your safest bet: Look it up. Don’t assume it’s “jerkface.” It might still be “jerk face,” or that awkward, in-between version of “jerk-face.” (By the way, it’s not “jerkface.”) Try Oxford Dictionaries Online, Merriam-Webster, or Dictionary.com.
What are some recently added compound words? Well, you can now safely use the following, which at some point in our recent past, you couldn’t.
What other examples should become compound words? Who knows! I have my own suggestions. For instance, I suggested Legonavigate as a new word meaning “To pick out a path and walk around Legos strewn across the floor in an effort to keep from stepping on those building blocks and cursing the Danes. “I had to Legonavigate his room to reach the dresser.” That would be a compound word, right?
I’d also be in favor of creating the word “highschool” since I’m already weary of typing the two words all the time.
How about “mindmeld”? Vulcans have been performing mind melds on TV since 1966, so maybe it’s time to start making that concept into one word.
I know it would be a rather long word, but perhaps “electionfatigue” is a concept most of us relate to. It rolls right off my lips.
One more idea would be the simple word: “dietscam.” You and I see them all the time, right? Why isn’t that a single word by now?
Would you like to add any compound words to our common usage? Do you have any favorite compound words? Are you confused about whether a certain concept is two words or a compound?